3 years later, family of man killed by Atlanta officer questions DA’s priorities

‘My son’s life matters,’ Jimmy Atchison’s father said at news conference
A news conference was held Friday, one day shy of the three-year anniversary of Jimmy Atchison's shooting death by an Atlanta police officer. (Henri Hollis / Henri.Hollis@ajc.com)

Credit: Henri Hollis

Credit: Henri Hollis

A news conference was held Friday, one day shy of the three-year anniversary of Jimmy Atchison's shooting death by an Atlanta police officer. (Henri Hollis / Henri.Hollis@ajc.com)

One day shy of the three-year anniversary of Jimmy Atchison’s shooting death by an Atlanta police officer, representatives for his family continued to ask why the results of an investigation into the incident have not been presented to a grand jury.

At a news conference convened on the steps of the Fulton County Courthouse on Friday morning, Atchison’s family and community activists pointedly called on District Attorney Fani Willis to prioritize the case.

Atchison, 21, was killed Jan. 22, 2019, when he was shot in the face following a foot chase, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported.

Atlanta police Officer Sung Kim, who has since retired, was pursuing Atchison while trying to arrest him on a warrant related to accusations of stealing a woman’s purse at gunpoint. Kim and several other officers, who were part of an FBI task force, chased Atchison through the apartment complex where he was located. Atchison entered a different apartment and hid in a closet, according to a report from the Fulton DA’s public integrity unit.

Kim, a 26-year APD veteran, said he shot Atchison in self-defense, believing he was armed, the AJC previously reported. He was not, investigators later confirmed.

Atchison’s father, Jimmy Hill, spoke Friday about the incident in a voice shaking with emotion.

Jimmy Hill, father of Jimmy Atchison, speaks about his son's shooting death.

Credit: Henri Hollis

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Credit: Henri Hollis

“Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Our lives begin to end when we become silent about things that matter,’” Hill said, paraphrasing the late civil rights icon. “My son Jimmy Atchison’s life matters.”

“I can’t understand why it would take three years to present a case to the grand jury once it’s been investigated already,” the attorney for Atchison’s family, Tanya Miller, said.

Miller previously worked as an assistant district attorney in Fulton under former DA Paul Howard. Now working in private practice, she filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Atlanta in 2020 on behalf of Atchison’s two daughters.

Friday’s news conference highlighted the anniversary of Atchison’s death and called attention to other cases that advocates say have been given higher priority.

Miller and community activists, including representatives from the NAACP and Justice for Georgia, repeatedly drew comparisons to Willis’ headline-making decision to request a special grand jury for help in the investigation of former President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn Georgia’s election results.

“As we hear that there’s a special grand jury being convened to hear evidence against Donald Trump, in a case that’s real simple, we need to ask the question of why a grand jury has not been convened to hear this evidence,” NAACP First Vice President Gerald Griggs said.

According to Miller, she and members of Atchison’s family met with Willis at the beginning of her term as Fulton’s DA in 2021.

“We have since contacted her Public Integrity Unit, wanting to know what an update is,” Miller said. “We’ve been told that the case is a priority. But we have no sense of when this case might be presented to the grand jury.”

Despite expressing frustration about the timeline of Atchison’s case, Miller acknowledged changes made by the Atlanta Police Department in the wake of the 21-year-old’s death.

As a member of an FBI task force at the time, Kim was not wearing a body camera when he shot Atchison. The FBI does not sanction the use of body cameras, so Kim did not have one despite APD’s policy requiring all officers to wear them, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported.

Following Atchison’s death, APD ended its relationship with the task force to which Kim was assigned and clarified its body-worn camera policy, the AJC reported.

The attorney for Jimmy Atchison's family, Tanya Miller, addresses the media on the three-year anniversary of Atchison's shooting death.

Credit: Henri Hollis

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Credit: Henri Hollis

Miller said the issue of body cameras was “bittersweet” because video footage of the incident may have galvanized more of a public outcry.

“We have seen the power of video when it comes to getting to the bottom of these officer-involved shootings. The Ahmad Arbery case is a good example,” Miller said. “It wasn’t until video surfaced of the actual shooting that the public was able to engage with elected officials and demand that action be taken.”

In an emailed statement, the Fulton DA’s Office said its staff is working through a “large backlog” of cases involving police use of force.

“As the District Attorney has repeatedly stated, she will resolve all police use of force cases left behind by the prior administration by the end of 2022,” spokesman Jeff DiSantis told the AJC. “The death of Jimmy Atchison occurred in 2019. A decision on whether to present that case to a grand jury for charges will be made by the end of 2022.”

That progress has not diverted Atchison’s family and community from their continued calls for action.

“Justice delayed is justice denied,” NAACP Atlanta President Richard Rose said.

“If you want to know what pain feels like, this is pain,” Hill said. “I’m not tired; I’m just tired of injustice. My son’s life matters. And we’re going to continue to fight, even if it takes our last breath, we’re going to continue to fight.”